The longevity revolution is here, but we haven’t prepared for it. The way cities are planned and homes are designed hasn’t really changed since mid 1900s. This lack of foresight is having a significant effect on people over 65 years who are not getting any younger. This is a common problem for most developed nations. The Design Council in UK tackled this topic in “The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design“. Their article contains some small scale but effective case studies, showing various ways to address the issues with inclusive thinking. It includes home modifications, ways to finance home and community upgrades, transportation, and the application of the WHO Guidelines for Age Friendly Communities. Educating designers and planners is of course paramount as well as involving citizens in the design and development processes. The article ends with a summary of recommendations. Their conclusions resonate with the principles of universal design:
“If we are going to be successful in creating homes and places which meets both fast rising demand, and the diverse and individual needs of older people, our thinking needs to be much broader. We need to consider how we help people afford better housing and plan their finances; how we develop long-term special plans and a workforce with the right skills; and how we use existing policy levers, such as expansion of personal budgets, to best effect. We need a whole-population, whole-place approach to planning for our future health, care, housing and support system at both the national and local levels.”
Do homes really have to be larger to incorporate universal design features? Unlikely saysKay Saville-Smith, a housing researcher from New Zealand. In her keynote address at the UD Conference in 2014 she explained why. Her presentation discussed the “size fraud” and the mistaken idea that homes need to be larger and therefore more expensive. She also referred to the “blame game” where nothing changes because no-one takes the first step. Below is an excerpt from the full transcript of her presentation, Making Universal Design a Reality – Confronting Affordability.
“Builders like to talk about cost per square metre so the larger the living space, the cheaper the perceived cost. Although the floor space need not expand to bring in UD features, it is believed that you do. So people say they won’t pay for that – or more to the point the builders say that”.
She goes on to say, “…there are still the two old barriers to renovating and building homes with universal design and indeed the streetscape, and those two things are twofold. One is what I’ve talked about in the past as the vicious cycle of blame that goes on in the building industry, which is no-one wants to change to do anything because the other person hasn’t asked them to do it. Investors don’t want universal design, so I the builder can’t build that, but if investors want it, sure I will build it. Investors will say I can’t build it because the builder won’t come in at the right cost, and both of them blame the architect, of course, because the architect is off site at that point. So that is one issue. The other issue is that we have the “innovation chasm” where we have solutions but getting them taken up and getting to a tipping point where it’s an expectation of what you get out of the housing market, is a big jump and typically you need about 30% or so of the market to be taking that kind of innovation challenge rather than taking the opportunity to be an early adopter. 30% is a big jump…”
Last year the Australian Building Codes Board released an Options Paper on Accessible Housing for comment. They have collated the information from the 179 submissions and produced a report. The 121 page report does not have recommendations about accessible housing. Rather, it leaves this to governments. The document identifies factors to shape the next stage of the project, the Regulation Impact Statement. The Executive Summary lists some of the key issues raised in the submissions:
There is a need to consider aligning the project objectives to the concepts of equity and independence, and consideration of the principles of universal design. Previous government commitments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and the COAG National Disability Strategy, were generally interpreted as commitments to regulate accessible housing. The prevalence of households with an occupant with a disability and the future impact of the population ageing need to be properly taken into account in establishing the need for regulation of accessible housing. Consideration should be given to the application of accessible housing provisions on difficult sites, where local planning policies may also impact upon the feasibility of an access standard applied to housing. Consideration should be given to residential tenancies legislation that may be restricting some groups from obtaining suitable housing or modifying rental housing to improve its accessibility. The importance of a step-free path to the dwelling entry door, and conversely, the practical difficulties associated with mandating such a feature in 100 per cent of circumstances. Whether or not features that are more difficult to retrofit — generally referred to as ‘structural features’ — should be prioritised in the design of possible NCC changes. Qualitative, or intangible, benefits should be identified and given due consideration in the RIS, as well as ensuring that it goes beyond consideration of people with a disability. Generally, stakeholders suggested that such benefits include reduced social isolation, and increased community participation and inclusion. It is important that costs are accurately quantified and the distribution of costs and regulatory burdens between industry and consumers is clearly identified. Although outside the scope of the NCC, non-regulatory options — including financial incentives and the further development and promotion of voluntary guidelines — should still be assessed against regulatory options and considered by governments.
Universal design can be embedded in refurbishments and upgrades without anyone noticing. Using a case study of a train station in Norway, Richard Duncan explains how it was done. Norway is a global leader in implementing UD strategies. Their landmark document, Norway Universally Designed by 2025, focuses on inclusive policies where everyone is made responsible. Two surveys from 2018 reveal a gradual change in attitude about universal design. More people understand the concept and agree with the principle of, “Universal design is necessary for some and useful for many”.
The Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) calls for regulation of universal design features in all new housing. Their position paperadvises that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Gold Level specifications should be the minimum requirement. The paper explains how it will assist ageing in place strategies and allow people to age at home for longer. Population ageing statistics and the types of health conditions experienced by older Australians are also included. Vision loss and arthritis are the most common conditions together with back problems and osteoporosis. As people age, they are likely to experience multiple health conditions. The appendix lists the performance statements of 16 recommended design elements. In summary, AAG supports the Livable Housing Australia statement that a universally designed home should:
Be easy to enter; be easy to move in and around; be capapble of easy and cost-effective adaptation, and be design to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of home occupants.
Here’s a call to traffic planners. A group in the UK is calling for slower speed limits on roads to help reduce pedestrian accidents.They list all the conditions where slower speeds could make a difference and allow people to cross the road safely. Drivers can’t tell if someone has anxiety, dementia, post traumatic stress or sleep disorder. Traffic can make them feel vulnerable and fearful. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with low vision are also at risk of accidents. Pregnant women, older people, and people with prosthetic legs or chronic illness might not be spotted either. Even if they are, it is unlikely to change driver behaviour or alertness. The 20’s Plenty for Us press release links their call to the disability rights agenda which requires equitable treatment for everyone. Traffic planners should therefore assume everyone is vulnerable.
A survey of 4000 UK residents shows that most people (72%) want every new home to be accessible for people of all ages and level of ability. The survey was commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. But there seem to be some contradictions. While 72% said this is a good idea, almost half the respondents said it wouldn’t make a difference to their decision to purchase a home. Only one third said it would make a difference. It looks like a case of “I’ll worry about it when the time comes”. Of course when the time comes it’s often too late. Few people plan for older age, chronic health conditions or disability when it comes to housing design.
Other information from the survey shows that almost two thirds of respondents don’t think their current home would be suitable to age in place, with nearly half actually worried about it. Centre for Better Ageing produced a press release with the survey information. There is another article on this topic on The Parliamentary Reviewwebsite.
Editor’s comment: The market mechanisms of demand and supply don’t apply in this situation where purchasing decisions are not always rational. In this situation the public purse has to pick up the fallout in terms of increased falls, longer hospital stays and aged care places.
The Creating Bathroom Access & Gender Inclusive Society bathroom guide illustrates how gender inclusive restrooms are also good for other groups of people who are often neglected in the assignment of sanitary facilities. Prevailing social attitudes are probably the biggest barrier to gender inclusive public bathrooms for people who identify as transgender. It therefore calls into question whether the historic binary idea of toilets (men and women) is necessary these days. Issues and solutions are provided in this guide.
“Bathroom access has played a key role in discrimination faced by many other minority groups, with sex segregation posing a particular challenge to enabling restroom inclusion for diverse gender identities. Research by scholars from the Haas Institute LGBTQ Citizenship research cluster highlights the ways gender inclusive bathrooms also benefit other populations including disabled and elderly people who may have attendants of another gender and parents caring for children.”
Bess Williamson takes a look at two books and reviews them in tandem, which makes for an interesting read in its own right. Both are about the history of disability, accessibility and universal design, but approach the topic from different perspectives. Aimi Hamraie takes a legal and rights view of history, while Elizabeth Guffey tracks the work of individual designers and the development of symbols and images, particularly the access symbol we know today. They show how accessible design was developed in more than one place at the same time, which shows at least two family trees of access and universal design. One from the bottom up (“crip technoscience”) and one from the top down (standards and codes). An excellent and thoughtful review by someone who understands this field of research. The books are:
An accessible and inclusive sports club sometimes requires a few physical adjustments to buildings, but more than anything it needs some forward planning and continuing commitment. Access for All: Opening Doors is a guide aimed at anyone involved in running or working in a sports club. The resource covers the main areas of physical access and leads on to other information. It is published by the Centre for Accessible Environments in the UK. Other resources are available from the Centre for Accessible Environments website – free publicationssection.